Sunday, August 7, 2011

Can I tell you a secret?

Source: Sarah Horrigan, 2011
I don't get Google+

Well, I get it in that I know approximately how to use it as well as some quick tips to help life on Google+ along.  But, shall I tell you what I really don't get about it so far?  It's like social networking with your mum in charge.

Firstly, the whole identity crisis thing at the moment.  No pseudonyms.  What?  Why?  There is a long tradition of writing being done using a pseudonym going back hundreds of years.  From famous authors to performers on stage or those needing / wanting to protect their identity - not using your 'real' name is perfectly acceptable.  Only recently I had an experience which made me think again about my decision to use my own name for the various bits of material I share online.  I've always tried not to name individuals (though I do mention my children occasionally) unless I have their consent or am writing about something they've publicly created.  But you are still liable to things you've written being interpreted in a way you never intended - and that having professional consequences for you in the long term.  The temptation to carry on writing but to use a pseudonym instead was strong.  In the end, I opted for 'being me'.  Despite the knowledge that the things I write could be perceived in a negative light should someone decide to do so, I know that I attempt to write in a personal, reflective and constructive style and I would be happy to discuss with anyone the views and viewpoints I share.  'Me' is still my preference.

But to decree that those who have chosen to use a pseudonym - and especially for those who've built up an online identity which is as 'real' as any other - cannot use a service such as Google+ is bizarre.  It's as if someone has just switched on their computer to discover a world beyond the physical and is shocked that the communication paradigms by which they operate no longer need a 'this is my given name' standpoint to function.  And function well.  Your identity is about the sum of the parts.  Your online identity even more so.  Using a 'real' name no more guarantees anything about the user than anonymity shields it.

Source: Sarah Horrigan, 2011
So, identity with Google+ is a sticking point.  Here's another.  Circles.  Like a conversational lasso they at once include those within and exclude those around them.  Yet, social networks are powerful because of the connections they facilitate and the connections they encourage between people who have yet to 'meet'.  I don't necessarily know who will read this blog post.  Or share it.  Or comment on it.  And I don't much care.  That's not to say I don't care about those three elements - just to say that the journey something can take you by sharing it online is all the more interesting for the uncontrolled nature of releasing something into a myriad of potential connections.  When I tweet something, it can either disappear into a stream of other messages or will float and be noticed.  There is no emotional consequence attached to it being 'ignored' because it isn't being ignored, it was just 'there'.  Google+ on the other hand encourages you, like a child in show-and-tell, to go up to the front of the class and share your work with others.  You select the circle.  You present to the circle.  The circle comments.  Or the circle is quiet.  Additionally, if your stream isn't flowing with shared items, then the silence is eerie.

If I were using Google+ in a slightly more formal setting, for example as part of a personalised learning environment with Google Apps during some kind of learning activity... well, that level of control could be very handy indeed.  But I'm not.  And it feels, just as with most formal spaces, somewhat artificial and abstracted from 'real' life.

Perhaps, as I was with Twitter, I'm not being fair.  Not giving it enough time.  But this isn't 2007 when I
 blasted the concept of microblogging.  And then spent the next few years repeatedly going 'okay, *now* I get it'.  Especially when I realise that critical mass and numbers are everything.  With 25 million plus users already, Google+ has 'success' scrawled all over it.  Rapid growth.  Mainstream adoption.  A familiar concept.  Integration of other services.  The power of Google harnessed and bulging at the seams.

It's just not doing it for me.

Google+ stop trying to get me to tidy my room into pretty circular piles and behave 'nicely' with my nice little name tag on.

Both the real and online versions of me are kinda irritated right now.

PS  Promise you won't tell anyone my little secret?  'kay?
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